circus-lion-tamer.jpg Note: there has been some further dust-up in the discussion between the Joneses. I want to comment on that, and I want to say something about what I think the future holds for the church on the brink of a new decade. But before I get to those items in my next post(s), I’ve decided to publish the following one, which I wrote and left in draft form after Tony Jones posted his rebuttal and before Andrew Jones posted his response to Tony. And if you’re not following that thread, just ignore this preamble and pay attention to what follows.

Here we sit at the dawn of 2010, beginning the second decade of the 21st century, and it’s once again time to reflect and to prognosticate. I thought at one time that I would be issuing Annual Prognostications on where the emerging/missional church is and where it’s going, but since I wrote in 2007 summing up my posts from 2005 and 2006 before making some predictions for 2007 through 2009, I haven’t really stuck my neck out in the same way. In part, it’s nice to see whether you were on track or not with past predictions before tossing out the next one, and here I was so bold as to look several years into the future.

Well.

I think I can say that my assertions of what would happen from 2005 through 2007 have been basically accurate. When making widespread general predictions about what will happen on an international scale, you’re bound to get the timing a little wrong in some regions even if it’s right in others, so looking at a timespan like 2005-07 allows us to say that, yes, perhaps certain things didn’t happen exactly in 2006 (for example), but they did occur within this general timespan. So far, so good.

Now we come to the analysis and opinion of a few others at the moment, most notably Andrew Jones, who wrote the other day, Emerging Church Movement (1989 – 2009)? The post is excellent, and insightful, and I agree with him. Unfortunately, many people have mistaken his intent and assumed that he was saying the emerging church movement is dead. Some have taken to eulogizing the movement, and others to disputing what they think Andrew has said.

Although he’s increasingly at odds with much of the movement, Bob Hyatt posted a nice list: 5 Things I’ve loved about the Emerging Church movement… He doesn’t really say whether he things the movement is dead, but I like the approach he’s taken even as a critic.

Tony Jones gave Andrew a thoughtful rebuttal, Lonnie Frisbee and the Non-Demise of the Emerging Church. Unfortunately, Tony’s main point of disagreement is the presumed death of the movement, which Andrew hasn’t claimed. Setting that aside, Tony’s response has some good ideas particularly in its latter half — though I’m not comfortable with the characterization of Calvary Chapel and the Vineyard as an attempt to capture the charisma of Lonnie Frisbee and make a living from it, as this implies John Wimber had no charisma of his own. There are, however, some other unfortunate parallels in what Tony suggests, and you’ll have to read his post before deciding whether Brian McLaren is this generation’s Lonnie Frisbee. And I do agree with Tony’s final point that “the question that looms over the ECM is whether it will become domesticated as the first generation of leadership passes the mantle to the second. But, the truth is, the answer to that lies …with you.”

Then too, you may have to ask whether domestication is a bad thing… and not everyone will come up with the same answer to that one. And this leads us to Andrew Jones’ followup post, 10 types of emerging church that will no longer upset your grandfather. The summary is a good one, though the comments bear out plainly that one of the types, the “churchless Christians” (#9) are not yet free of criticism, even from within the emerging church movement. Sadly we’ve got a ways to go on that one yet, and the more I read the criticisms, the more I want to call myself churchless. This category in particular requires more openness and understanding from within the emerging/missional movement first, as almost all of the objections I have seen misunderstand this group of people — both the nature of the group and of what they’re saying or practicing.

But hold up a moment.

If I were to sum up what Andrew is saying in a nutshell, it’s that during 2009, the emerging church movement has become more acceptable to mainstream Christianity. I suppose to some, that’s a kind of death… but those are the people who need to ask themselves whether they got into this movement to reform their own experience of church, or just to get away from their parents and weird uncle Edgar. I’m just sayin’.

So here’s part of what I wrote in January 2007:

As we move past 2008 into 2009 then, there will be a greater willingness on the part of both emerging and established churches to work together or to see things from the same viewpoint. Having been willing to consider missional endeavours together, or at least in the same way, an increased willingness to consider common theological ground will begin, and a deeper level of open conversation will result. This is where it will get uncomfortable for many in the emerging church, as we don’t want to become the thing we rejected, and it may seem to some that the emerging church is institutionalizing. Perhaps some will, but this is what is anticipated in my metaphor of “Saul’s armour.” Some will feel they can grow into it, others won’t, but there will be a renewed and more widespread conversation going on, with a genuine openness on both sides.

Do I think it will take three more years before the established church is accepting of the emerging church? I’m not sure, I doubt it will take that long in every case, but in some cases it will take longer. As closely as I can from this vantage point though, I think I’m offering a general idea of when the tide will turn.

We’re watching the foundations being laid for Church 2.0. Remember folks, you heard it here first.

Now I don’t want to say I told you so… but I will say that I’m not surprised about where we are today. We’re exactly where I thought we’d be. Whether the emerging church is becoming domesticated or the traditional church is becoming rogue or we’re all just meeting in the radical middle, the effect is the same even though the label changes with the perspective of the wielder.

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